Ron Grillo

Ron Grillo

GRILLO: Black stars made a difference

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Just in case you were not aware, we are in the middle of Black History Month, a celebration that began in 1926 and was raised to its current status by President Gerald Ford in a 1976 proclamation.

Why isn’t ESPN featuring the history of blacks in sports every hour of the month?

This is my humble effort to salute the heroes, many of whom had to scale inconceivable hurdles.

I’m using my friend, the late Bert Sugar’s magnificent tome, “The 100 Greatest Athletes of All Time,” as a template.

The book was copyrighted in 1995, but I’ll try to add athletes who excelled well into the 21st century.

Any discussion of the world’s greatest athlete begins with the peerless Jim Brown, who is No. 1 in the book.

Walter Payton is considered by some at the top of the lists of immortal ball carriers. Others receiving recognition include Jerry Rice, Gail Sayers, Barry Sanders and – reluctantly – O.J. Simpson.

A Super Bowl loss hasn’t diminished the achievements, talent and future of No. 1, Cam Newton.

Where would baseball be today if Jackie Robinson hadn’t crushed the game’s revolting color line? He opened the door for Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson and the inimitable Satchel Paige.

Few fought battles against racism and other forms of injustice more than the gifted Jesse Owens, whose story is being told in the movie “Race.”

Black athletes have dominated track and field in almost all eras.

Carl Lewis is a 10-time Olympic medal winner, including nine gold. 400-meter hurdler Edwin Moses posted 47-consecutive victories. Decathlete Rafer Johnson and sprint star Wilma Rudolph excelled in the storied 1960 Olympics in Rome.

Wilt Chamberlain revolutionized basketball beginning in the ‘50s, while some say Michael Jordan added another dimension. It’s difficult to grasp that Bill Russell or anyone could win 11 titles with Boston and two more as head coach.

Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul- Jabbar were invaluable contributors

Boxers were the athletes adored by the black community beginning at the turn of the last century with Jack Johnson, not in Bert’s 100, followed by Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali.

Jack Nicklaus, at No. 21 is the highest rated golfer in Bert’s book. Because Tiger Woods didn’t turn pro until 1996, Bert had only his amateur career to consider.

If Bert had updated his book, and I believed he would have, he’d have had Nicklaus and Woods tied at No. 21. Serena Williams could hold her own with the champions of any era including Althea Gibson, the female counterpart to Arthur Ashe, Jr.

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